Fond Atari Memories

In celebration of the 37th anniversary of Atari’s Breakout game, Google has created and released a version that you can play on your computer.  Accessing is Easter Egg-ish in nature.  Go to a Google Image Search and search for “Atari Breakout”, wait a couple of seconds and you’ll be presented with a version of the game.  Use your left and right arrows for fine control or your mouse/trackpad to move the paddle left and right and keep the bouncing ball alive.

Pretty primitive by today’s standards but addicting, nonetheless.

But my memories go far beyond the game which was groundbreaking and part of the reason why we have such great gaming options available to use today.

I think back to a ground of computer science students I had once who also loved their gaming.  My students, with previous permission, were allowed to “dine” with me and work on their projects if my classroom was vacant during their lunch period.  Take that, English teachers!  One day, the topic turned to Breakout and they discussed how they would make the game better.

So, I said “Why don’t you write one then?”

This was a group of Grade 11 students and I distinctly remember that we had talked about directly accessing video memory at the time.  They looked around the table at each other and soon they were off.

The teacher in me was so proud that they didn’t start at the computer.  They started with logic flows, screen layout and design, pseudo-code for what they anticipated to be challenges later, dividing and assigning tasks, and documentation.  If you’re a computer science teacher, you know that these things can be like pulling teeth with students who just want to head to the keyboard and start coding.

Within a couple of weeks, they had a working model that was a pretty faithful reproduction of the original game.  To be honest, development stopped for a while as the joy of playing and obtaining high scores took over.

But then, development took over again.  I recall customized music, customized targets, spinning actions for hits.  I was into this like a dirty shirt.  We were all learning on the fly.

It was great to watch the students take on their own project and develop the passion to make it the best they could be.  When they would run into a roadblock because of something they had not been taught/learned yet, they dug deeply into the technical manuals.  Sadly, our course work became almost trivial in nature!

Thanks, Google, for releasing this version of Breakout.  It brought back some great memories to this teacher.

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One thought on “Fond Atari Memories

  1. Thank you for sharing this story! It’s always great to hear what sparks that creativity in students and makes them strive to achieve. It’s amazing what a simple conversation can do to get kids interested and make them contribute their ideas!

    Like

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